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Santa Monica Recognizes Employees with The Elaine Award

July 30, 2019 2:27 PM
by Rick Cole

Santa Monica Recognizes Employees with The Elaine Award

Former Assistant City Manager Elaine Polachek set a superb standard for public leadership, honesty, courage and dedication to serving others. An avid sports fan, she kept in her office at City Hall a collection of bobblehead figures of Dodger and Kings players she and her husband had collected over the years. So when it came time to honor her three decades of service to Santa Monica, we had our own “Elaine” bobblehead created with Elaine dressed as “Superwoman” in front of the Pier Ferris Wheel. We ordered two – one to give her at her last City Council meeting – and another to launch a new tradition. I felt the best way to honor her example was to recognize other City staff who follow in her footsteps of going the extra mile to serve our community.   

Each week, I personally deliver the “Elaine” award to those who exemplify our commitment to excellent service. I know residents don’t often personally have the opportunity to meet many of the faces behind the services this City delivers, so I want to share a roundup of the "Elaine" recipients from the last six months. I hope you enjoy getting to know more of the people who contribute to making Santa Monica a city that works for everyone. Keep an eye out in New Year for highlights of the next round of Elaine Award recipients. 

Have you received outstanding customer service from a City employee? Help recognize their contributions here!


Christina Winting, Human Resources

When it became clear there would be a gap of more than two months between the retirement of Donna Peter and the arrival of Lori Gentles as the new Human Resources Director, Christina Winting stepped in. How we treat, train and motivate our people is key to our success. Christina's vision, collaborative spirit and willingness to go the extra mile is truly worthy of the spirit exemplified by the Elaine Award!

Stace Graham, Systems Policy Engineer, Information Services Department

In today's world when we all rely on technology to be 24/7 reliable, our ISD colleagues play a vital role behind the scenes. This Elaine Award went to Stace for quick, excellent customer service and outstanding teamwork.

Dwight LeDuff, Resource Recovery and Recycling, Public Works

Under Dwight’s leadership, the RRR team has been working hand-in-hand with the Homeless Liaison Program (HLP) to quickly address complaints regarding perceived homeless encampments. Dwight works tirelessly to help the City meet the needs of people experiencing homelessness while also maintaining the public health and safety of the entire community. The support from Dwight LeDuff and RRR produces positive outcomes on one of the most pressing issues facing our community.

The Homeless Count 2019 Team

This Elaine went to the many teams who worked collaboratively across department lines for the 2019 Homeless Count, which supported 375 community volunteers (including many of our own staff).  Staff from every department volunteered for the myriad roles to make the count work.

Public Works Facilities Staff: Jim Nunez, Michael Williams, Jose Gonzales, Raymundo Nieves, Mark Banuelos, Alex Padilla, Raymundo Nieves, Alma Lopez, Jarret Holmes, Russell Morris, and Tad Banach

Santa Monica's Public Works Facilities staff are consistently responsive and reliable — quickly jumping into action to help get repairs done at places all across the City. Thank you for all your hard work! 

City Attorney's Office and Housing & Economic Development Staff: Gary Rhoades, Andrea Cavanaugh, Brigette Garay, Johanna Rodriguez, Anna Topolewski, Anna Preciado, Eduardo Lizarraga, Inesha Philips, Isabel Trevino, Loretta Carter and Sylvia Romo

The Santa Monica City Attorney’s Office (CAO) and Housing & Economic Development Department worked together to successfully challenge landlord discrimination in 11 cases so far.  In each of these cases, the CAO sent the landlord a demand letter citing the new law passed by City Council forbidding discrimination against Section 8 recipients and then worked with the Housing Division to eventually persuade the owner to accept the voucher.

Monica Hanley, Fire 

A message left for the Fire Department from a long-time, Santa Monica business owner praised Monica for her efforts. When he needed assistance sorting out an issue with underground tanks on his property, Monica stepped in to help, staying late into the evening to help Ron with a letter that needed to get out. Monica has over 30 years of service and her attitude and professionalism are outstanding every day.

Water Resources Staff: Ruben Bisuano, Cedric Burris, Gerard DelaCerda, Isaac Garcia, Jaime Gomez, Saul Perez, John Roberts

After receiving a call about a sheared hydrant spilling out onto Pacific Coast Highway, Water Resources staff responded, determining that it was not a sheared hydrant, but a broken water air-vac line belonging to Los Angeles County. Although the waterline did not belong to the City of Santa Monica, our staff recognized the imminent danger of mudslides from the bluff or washing out the coast highway. Our staff brought out heavy equipment to expose the shut-off valve that was buried under mud and assisted the LA County Water crews in shutting off the valve. Water Resources staff were recognized for their quick decisive actions.

Kat Ahlers and Paul Mitre, Pier & Harbor Services, Police

Santa Monica Harbor Service Officers Paul Mitre and Kat Ahlers saved a vacation for a couple who realized on their road home they'd accidentally thrown away an engagement ring. The nominator shared his gratitude:

"It would have been too easy for them to say that they could not go look or even say that they did and not do it. The fact that they went down there with bitter cold winds pushing in and were willing to look in the trash for the ring spoke volumes to me. My fiancé and I cannot begin to say thank you enough for their efforts and I hope that this email will highlight their dedication and effort to help patrons of the pier area."

Librarians at the Information Desk, Main Library: Judith Graham, Jen Ullrich, Jennifer Boyce, Lucy Baddeley, Jeff Schwartz, Jeff Kaplan, Regina Aaron, Peg Eby-Jager, Eileen King, Ginny Kovner, Lillie Massie, Amy Muscoplat, Bonnie Stark and Kerri Thompson

Information Desk staff are always happy to answer any questions that come their way, whether locating a specific item in the library, providing readers’ advisory to someone that wants a new book to read, or providing directions to the nearest notary. Our knowledgeable, welcoming, and engaging public library staff provide an invaluable service to our community. 

Shira Moch, Community & Cultural Services

After an intensive community outreach effort to inform the strategic blueprint for our City's parks, Shira, leader of the Parks and Recreation Master Plan Open House Team, led an incredible team of staff across several departments to put on a fun, welcoming and positive event in Tongva Park that drew a diverse crowd of residents from across our community.

Cynthia Mandel, Community & Cultural Services

A Santa Monica resident nominated Cynthia, sharing:

"Cynthia has demonstrated high excellence through her leadership at the Santa Monica College Swim Center. She can be seen checking in with her staff to make certain they are doing well. She brings cheer to the children who are taking swim lessons by connecting with them and their parents. She has worked diligently for 19 years at the Swim Center."

Fire, Police, Public Works Staff: Eric Himler, Juan Cornejo and Jason Baer

Hundreds of Santa Monica staff pitched in before or during the L.A. Marathon to deal with the massive logistical challenge of hosting over 24,000 total runners along with their friends and families and thousands of spectators, not to mention the normal Sunday crowds. Multiple departments plan for every aspect of the event, including security, technology and traffic. This Elaine went to Santa Monica's Logistics Team who represent the benchmark for excellence that our staff displayed by constantly leaning forward and anticipating needs. 

"On the day of the event, Eric, Juan and Jason managed their teams that are responsible for assuring all meals are ordered and delivered to several hundred people working in the field. They coordinate parking, troubleshoot technology and communication-related issues and clean up the mess when everyone heads home after a long day at the Command Post." said Tom Clemo, Deputy Fire Chief with the Santa Monica Fire Department. "Without them, we would not have a successful and safe event."

Public Works Street Services Crew: Phil McIvor, Sylvester Mabry, Carlos Cobos, Tyler Brown, Ryan Chamberlain, Peter Naranjo, Mark Troy

A Santa Monica Works ticket was submitted for a sidewalk in need of replacement on Washington Blvd, posing a hazard to pedestrians due to holes and broken sections of concrete. Within three days, the work was completed and the resident who nominated the team followed up with this note of thanks:

"Mr. Phil McIvor and his entire crew did a fantastic job replacing the broken sidewalk at 957 18th Street, Santa Monica. They were professional, explained exactly what they had to do, informed my tenants in the building and completed the work expeditiously. Thank you so much!"

Public Works, Information Systems, and City Attorney's Office Staff: Diana Burger, Chris Dishlip, Cyndie Garcia, Jerel Guinto, Sarkis Metspakyan, Bradley Michaud, Abel Platero, Herry Poernomo, Tim Purcell, Hector Ramirez, Amber Richane

As City Hall undergoes renovations ahead of the move to the new City Services Building next April, we are becoming more creative in our use of space. In the case of the City Attorney's Office, there was a need to relocate from City Hall to a temporary space.  But turning long-empty private office space into workable temporary office space for the City Attorney's staff was a tall order. The amount of work getting the building up and running was immense and required multiple departments working together to pull off the relocation.

Fire Department Bluff Rescue Team: Dan Woelfel, Bill Howard, Ryan DeMamiel, Robert Otani, Dean Faddis, Matt Hill, Kevin Carlson, Benjamin Braun, Aaron Sanchez, Johnny Maccini, Steve West, Dominick Bei, Michael Linares, Jason Wells, Jonathon Sly, Aurora Paaluhi, Michael Rivera, James Hesketh, Dustin Rodriguez 

A little before 3 a.m., Santa Monica Fire Department personnel responded to a rescue a man who had fallen down the Bluffs above Pacific Coast Highway.  He had tumbled approximately 100 feet from the edge and was trapped on the hillside.  Deploying multiple companies and specialized equipment, the firefighters were able to rescue him and transport him to Ronald Reagan UCLA Trauma Center to treat his injuries. Fire personnel were on scene for nearly three hours until dawn, an event that required teamwork, technical skill, communication and coordination to pull off.

Website Leads Team: Daniel Costello, Donald Zelaya, Jennie Campos, Maria Dacanay, Myesha Morrison, Tati Simonian, Bill Friedel, Bradley Michaud, Delana Gbenekama, Lynn Wolken-Gonzales, Melissa Lindley, Rachel Foyt, Suzanne Post, Stephanie Lazicki-Meyer

The Web Leads Team have been working diligently to lead their departments through an extensive content audit in preparation for the new and improved website, to be soft-launched early next year. We recognize this team for their exceptional and tireless work on this project, rallying their teams behind this work and empowering them to think about how we communicate and deliver services to our community. This is just one example of their crucial role in this project and their dedication to deliver a 21st Century Government that works for everyone.

Gonenc Oztopcu, Fire (Volunteer)

Usually reserved for staff, I made an exception to honor one of our truly exceptional volunteers in recognition of National Volunteer Month.  Gonenc Oztopcu or G, as she likes to be called, has volunteered over 1,246 volunteer hours over the last six years with Santa Monica Fire Department’s (SMFD) Fire Prevention Division and also supports our public safety partners, the Santa Monica Police Department. She is always happy to assist staff and has become part of the SMFD family. Hundreds of volunteers help us create a city that works for everyone and G exemplifies those many, many volunteers deserving recognition.

Vanessa Alvarado, Library

Vanessa Alvarado, Children's Librarian at the Pico Branch Library, plans, prepares and participates in over 300 children programs a year, including the annual Summer Reading Program, LEARN, Reading to Go, Toddler Storytime, Spanish Storytime, STEAM programs, Arts & Literacy Festival, and the Greens Festival. A resident recently took the time to recognize the invaluable role that Vanessa fills for many children in our community via a We Do the Right Thing Right nomination:

"My daughter, Joy, and I have been attending the Spanish storytimes at the Santa Monica Pico Branch Library. We've been continuously impressed by the genuine care of Vanessa, the bilingual librarian. She does a lot and is always running around to provide opportunities for the parents/caregivers and toddlers. She definitely seems to stand out as an outstanding librarian who goes above and beyond."

Santa Monica’s Bike Month Team: Ben Rankin, Colleen Stoll, Cory Keen, Cynthia Rose, Delana Gbenekama, Jack Moreau, Jason Hoang, Jason Kligier, Jay Dinkins, Jeff Snyder, Jennie Campos, Jennifer Taylor, Joe SanClemente, Kyle Kozar, Puja Thomas-Patel, Ron Durgin, Sirinya Matute, Zach Pollard

Santa Monica’s Bike Month Team coordinated multiple events and created opportunities across the community and City departments to promote riding your bike all month long. They welcomed veteran and first-time riders in front of City Hall for Bike to Work Day Pit-Stop in front of City Hall. They also found ways to partner on the Handlebar Happy Hours with Santa Monica's "Most Loved" restaurant winners and worked with the Santa Monica-Malibu School District on Bike It! Walk It! to promote getting to school via foot, bike, scooter, and bus. 

Public Work's Water Resources, Street & Fleet Services, and Civil Engineering Staff: Allen Issagholian, Robin Jarrett, Thomas Check, Glenn Claypool, Ralph Valencia, William McMurray, Jaime Gomez, Juan Martin, Gerard DelaCerda, Charlie Salazar, Richard Sanchez, Robert Hernandez



Following annual alley renovation work, a home with aging water pipes experienced a water leak resulting in two homes being without water service. The team proactively contacted the property owner to inform him of the situation and responded quickly to identify solutions, including providing temporary repairs to provide short-term water access to the buildings. It is responsiveness by employees while following important processes and protocols that benefits both individual residents and the community as a whole.

Fariba Hayashi, Public Works

Each workday, Fariba addresses 15 or more Santa Monica Works requests—the City's online form which provides our residents, businesses, and visitors an opportunity to request a service or report an issue 24-hours a day, 7-days a week. Fariba takes a special interest in ensuring all are addressed in a timely manner, and consistently receives positive feedback from customers on being prompt, knowledgeable, and courteous. 

The most recent comments are: "This department is amazing with fast response time and dedication to keeping our alley clear of disposed items. Thank you so much." Another resident shared their words of gratitude after an alley was cleared of furniture and garbage: "Handled very quickly and easily. Thank you!"

Andrew Gibson, Community & Cultural Services

Andrew Gibson has stepped into functioning as a central point of contact for communications efforts in the Human Services Division of Community & Cultural Services. He has been instrumental in elevating the stories and information about a vast array of programs from youth and family services to addressing homelessness. He carries with him a sensitivity towards his colleagues and the division's work, while simultaneously shepherding projects across the finish line.

Santa Monica Pier Education and Enforcement Team: Stephanie Tovar, Enrique Esparza, Ivan Martin, Hector Villavicencio, Jeremy Cheever, Angelica Barajas, Anthony Angle, Steve Romero, Peter Lashley, Rob Dawson, Christopher Camp, Eric Perez, Joel Cook, Maurice Cochee, Sydney Blanco, Luis Tejeda, Matthew Lauwers, Ryan Ellis, KaShauna Pickens

This Elaine Award went to the Pier Education and Enforcement Team, an inter-departmental and inter-agency operation between Santa Monica Code Enforcement, Santa Monica Police, Los Angeles County of Department of Public Health and Los Angeles County of Department of Children and Family Services. They worked together on a Memorial Day weekend operation to inform and protect the health and safety of Pier and beach visitors. These types of joint enforcement efforts help to guarantee that Santa Monica remains a place that people from all income levels and backgrounds can proudly live, work and play.

Christopher Smith, City Manager’s Office

This Elaine went to Christopher Smith, Santa Monica’s LGBTQIA Liaison with the City Manager’s Office, for his leadership and efforts in establishing Santa Monica’s first PRIDE month. From the PRIDE lights outside City Hall to a memorable PRIDE proclamation at City Council earlier this month, Christopher poured his heart and soul into making PRIDE a memorable celebration that expresses Santa Monica’s commitment to supporting equity, and social justice for all people. Like all good leaders, Christopher inspired a team of fellow staff and community partners to contribute their best efforts to create a magnificent shared success. Christopher's efforts and passion inspired so many others to create this important milestone in Santa Monica's history. 

Madeleine Gallagher & CityTV Production Team: Madeleine Gallagher, Astra Price, Brent Kaplan, Greg Van Gemert, Halima Lucas, Landis Stokes, Manny Alvarado, Saile Ramirez, Theo Rasmussen, Wendy Nolan



Madeleine fearlessly led the CityTV team through the planning, production and post-production stages of 17 “We Are Santa Monica” videos of community members, including shooting, editing, and developing graphics. Beyond the normal challenges of production, this team shot at three different locations over four days in the heat and overcame unexpected challenges. In addition to this project, Madeleine was also managing the production of "wave" Santa Monica's Arts and Culture show.

CityTV Cable TV Manager, Russ Maloney, shared these words about Madeleine's quality of work:

"Madeleine puts her all into every project she oversees. She takes ownership over the quality of work and is always looking to produce the best work possible. One of the things I appreciate most about Madeleine is her ability to take ideas presented to her and creatively improve upon them, which is very evident in the We Are videos."

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